Mindful Eating: Skillpower, not Willpower
For most of us, eating is a mindless, unconscious, reactive, compulsive, automatic, mechanical, thoughtless, habitual, hand-to-mouth activity. We are, in a manner of speaking, eating “zombies.” The overarching goal of the Mindful-not-Mouthful approach is to awaken and to re-program the eating “zombie” with a new habit of paying attention to:
– External (i.e. environmental) factors that trigger you to start and stop eating;
– Internal (physiological and/or psychological) factors that trigger you to start or stop eating;
– Process of eating.
Put differently, the habit of mindful eating involves:
– Habitual mindfulness of environmentally triggered eating;
– Habitual mindfulness of hunger and fullness;
– Habitual mindfulness of the process of eating;
– Habitual mindfulness of emotionally triggered eating;
– Mindful (rather than mindless) emotional eating.
Mindfulness and knowledge are different things. Knowledge is informational awareness. Mindfulness is experiential awareness. To know something is different from experiencing something. In your self-help readings or treatment encounters you might have come across the advice to “eat mindfully” or “slow down your eating and be conscious of taste.” Knowing this advice leads to informational awareness. Applying this advice creates experiential awareness.
As a kid, I remember trying to learn a back-flip. First, I tried to gather information from my more acrobatic friends. Struggling for words and relying primarily on gestures and body language, they shared their know-how with me. Armed with the information, I tried it and hurt myself a few times before I got it right. In retrospect, I realize that the information I gathered had essentially no value – in trying to do a back-flip, I was not following anyone’s blue-print but enacting a kind of intuitive kinesthetic visualization that I had in my mind long before I consulted my friends. Having materialized that kinesthetic vision, I had acquired experiential awareness of how it is done, my own know-how of the back-flip that cannot be adequately expressed in words.
Knowing that you need to be conscious of your eating or even trying it a few times according to someone’s prototype of mindful eating is insufficient for a change in eating habits. And yet, informational awareness is a vital precursor of change. Without having the comfort of knowledge about how to do a back-flip, I would have probably never attempted it. It is only when I thought I knew how to do it that I felt the confidence to try it, which opened the door into a series of trials and errors that eventually led to a successful landing on my feet.
So, the overall idea behind Mindful-not-Mouthful approach is to make the three-point journey from (1) knowledge (of mindful eating), to (2) practice (of mindful eating), to the destination of (3) habitual application (of mindful eating); with the goal to permanently awaken the overeating “zombie.” Worry not: you have until the rest of your life to figure this out. Most of us eat 3 days a day – that’s a 1000 meals a year, give and take. If you make a point to set a single (however, fleeting) precedent of mindful eating at each meal you will eventually develop a platform of mindful eating skillpower. Take your time!
Additional Resources: Mindful Eating Pictorial
Somov, P. (2011). Mindful Eating: Skillpower, not Willpower. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 8, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/2010/01/mindful-eating-skillpower-not-willpower/